Opposition leader urges talks with Taliban

Pakistan’s government should negotiate with the country’s Taliban militants to ease the relentless security crisis in the nuclear-armed, US-allied nation, the top opposition leader said.

Nawaz Sharif made the comments two days after a pair of suicide bombers killed 42 people at a famed Sufi shrine in the province controlled by his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N.

The party is considered more religiously conservative and aligned with pro-Taliban parties than the Pakistan People’s Party, which runs the federal government.

The comments also come as Pakistan tries to weigh in on reconciliation efforts between Afghanistan’s government, the US and the Afghan Taliban. Past peace deals with Pakistani militant groups usually collapsed.

Mr Sharif said Islamabad should not wait for directives from Washington on how to deal with its problems.

“We have this problem in our home. Why shouldn’t we take initiatives?” he said in a news conference in Lahore that was broadcast live.

The government should negotiate to the “Taliban who are ready to talk and ready to listen,” he said.

Federal government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr Sharif’s party was criticised in recent months for not going after militants in Punjab. One group recently emerged in the eastern province and was labelled the Punjabi Taliban.

Mr Sharif is a former prime minister overthrown in a 1999 coup by then-General Pervez Musharraf. Gen Musharraf’s government and the one now in power tried several times to negotiate with Taliban fighters who have strongholds in the northwest. But for the most part, those peace deals failed.

It was unclear which groups Mr Sharif expected the government to talk to. There are numerous militant organisations in Pakistan, and they often overlap and work together.

Asked about this and the past failed peace attempts, Mr Sharif said only: “Peace is the priority. Ways can be found.”

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